The Winter Pascha, Chapter 4: Temples of the Living God


The following is an excerpt from The Winter Pascha, by Fr. Thomas Hopko

Entrance_TheotokosIn the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved. If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved. She is, in every aspect of her life, as Father Alexander Schmemann so often said, not the great exception, but rather the great example. From her conception to her dormition, that is, her true and real death, she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ.

In the festival of the entrance of Mary into the temple we have seen how Christ's mother is continuously hymned as the "living temple of the holy glory of Christ our God." She is praised as the "living ark which contained the Word that cannot be contained." She is glorified as "the temple that is to hold God," consecrated by the spirit to be the "dwelling place of the Almighty." She enters the Holy of Holies to become herself the "animated Holy of Holies," the one in whom Christ is formed, thereby making her, and everyone who is one with her in faith, the "abode of heaven."

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We are all made to be living temples of God. We are all created to be dwelling places of his glory. We are all fashioned in His image and likeness to be abodes of His presence. The first Christian martyr, the protodeacon Stephen whose memory is celebrated on the third day of Christmas, was killed for proclaiming this marvel when he bore witness that "the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands." For this, like Jesus himself, he was accused of planning the destruction of the earthly temple at Jerusalem (Acts 7:48; 6:14). The apostle Paul proclaims this same doctrine clearly and without equivocation when he writes to the Corinthians and to us that "we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Cor 3:9).

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are. (1 Cor 3:16-17)

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Jesus Christ, the Son, Word, and Image of God, is physically and spiritually formed in the body of Mary so that He might be formed in us as well (see Gal 4:19). This is the meaning of Christmas, which is the meaning of life itself: Christ in us and we in Christ, God with us and we with God. The Spirit in our hearts so that the Spirit can flow out from us, sanctifying the world around us. This is not mere symbolism, the high-blown language of the liturgy an the scriptures. This is serious business. It is a matter of life and death. For we are either the living vessels of God-- "earthen vessels" to be sure, to show, as the apostle again affirms, that "the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor 4:7)-- or we are, to use the apostles language once more, "vessels of wrath" to be destroyed in our wickedness by God's righteous glory (Rom 9:22).

As we go the way of the Winter Pascha the choice placed before us is clear. We can follow the "narrow way" that leads to life, or we can go on the "broad way" that leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14). We can, like Mary, cleave to the Lord and become His dwelling place in the Spirit. Or we can through immorality and sin choose the death of the nothingness which we are unless the Lord Himself lives within us. "But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him" (1 Cor 6:17).

Let the heavens above greatly rejoice
And let the clouds pour down gladness today
At the mighty acts of our God, exceedingly marvelous.
For behold, the "Gate facing the East" is born
According to the promise from a fruitless and barren womb,
And is dedicated to God as his dwelling,
Led this day into the temple as an offering most pure.
Let David greatly rejoice, striking his harp:
"Virgins," he said, "shall be led with the queen"
Into the tabernacle of God, His place of propitiation,
There to be raised to become the dwelling place of Him who was begotten of the Father without change before all ages without change for the salvation of the world.

 

 


St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
The Winter Pascha by Fr. Thomas Hopko

 

 

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